SANTA ANA, Calif. - Leaders of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange scripted public statements to hide sexual misconduct cases involving a priest and a choir teacher, according to a newspaper account of sealed documents that were accidentally released.
The documents reveal the role of church officials in crafting statements to parishioners when the priest and teacher were forced to leave the diocese after acknowledging the misconduct, The Orange County Register reported yesterday.
Editor Ken Brusic said The Register decided to publish information from the documents - over the objections of the diocese and the plaintiff's attorney who inadvertently released the files - because clergy child abuse is a "matter of compelling public interest."
"We obtained the documents legally, and found they contained new and important information," Brusic said in a note accompanying the story.
The material published by the paper includes information on the Rev. John E. Ruhl and Thomas Hodgman, a former teacher at the diocese's Mater Dei High School. Hodgman has publicly claimed he is innocent; Ruhl has refused to comment.
In the documents, officials disclosed that Hodgman, who resigned in 1989, had admitted in private he had sex with two female students, including one who got pregnant and had an abortion. At the time of his resignation, church officials provided school employees with a prepared script that said the teacher quit to further his education and did not mention the misconduct.
Hodgman is currently a professor at Adrian College in Adrian, Mich. He did not return phone calls from The Associated Press.
In 1992, the diocese received a report that Ruhl, a pastor at the time, had been accused by a teenage boy in 1976-77 of wrapping the child's genitals in athletic tape to prevent him from masturbating, the paper said.
Questioned about the allegation, Ruhl acknowledged using the tape but said it was intended to be therapeutic. He later resigned.
In handwritten notes in the sealed files, former Bishop Norman McFarland wrote that, if asked about the departure, he would say it was not proper to discuss personnel matters and would expect Ruhl to do the same, the paper said.
Ruhl, who is living in Chicago, did not return calls from the AP yesterday.
So far, The Register is the only newspaper to disclose the contents of the sealed files.
Also yesterday, an attorney said the Stockton, Calif., diocese and lawyers for a victim of abuse by a former priest have agreed to settle a pending civil claim for $3 million.
The unidentified victim accused the diocese of failing to protect him from a known molester. The diocese has already paid more than $10 million for claims involving Oliver O'Grady, who served as a priest at St. Anne's in Lodi in the 1970s.
More than 750 civil lawsuits were filed against Roman Catholic dioceses in California since the state temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for filing sex-abuse claims in 2002.
Elsewhere, the Archdiocese of St. Louis announced a priest who has opted to stay in prison while authorities challenge a court's dismissal of his convictions for sexual misconduct has been formally dismissed from the clergy.
James Beine, 63, was suspended from the priesthood in 1977 over allegations of sexual abuse, and in the mid-1990s St. Louis' archdiocese paid $110,000 to settle two lawsuits that alleged Beine sexually abused boys more than three decades earlier.